02 November 2023

Minister vows to be ‘robust’ in fighting for drugs policy funding

02 November 2023

Drugs minister Elena Whitham has said she will be “robust” in her fight to secure adequate funding for her portfolio.

Scotland has been struggling with record high drug deaths in recent years, with figures falling but the death toll remaining at 1,051 in 2022.

The Government pledged a boost of £250 million throughout this parliamentary term to tackle Scotland’s problem relationship with drugs, which has resulted in the highest number of drug deaths in Western Europe.

Appearing before a joint committee at Holyrood on drugs policy, Ms Whitham was urged by Labour MSP Katy Clark to pledge that she will “make the case in the strongest terms” why more funding is needed.

“I will always make robust representations when it comes to the portfolio and the individuals that my portfolio seeks to support right across the country,” the minister said.

Ms Whitham also rejected claims that funding to council alcohol and drug partnerships (ADPs) this year was lower than previous years, claiming the Scottish Government merely asked the bodies to use up reserves ahead of spending their base allocation.

The minister said funding in 2021-22 was £140.7 million, while it was £141.9 million in 2022-23 and projected to be £155.5 million for the current financial year – a real terms increase of just under £2 million, according to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre real-terms calculator.

“Absolutely, I give you my guarantee that I will make robust representations for the budget,” the minister said.

She added two-thirds of ADP funding had been guaranteed – or baselined – and hoped that would allow for forward planning.

Ministers and council officials in Glasgow have been in a drawn-out battle with the UK Government over drug consumption rooms (DCRs) for almost a decade, an argument that was resolved when Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said it “would not be in the public interest” to arrest those who use such facilities.

This gave the go-ahead for a facility in the city’s Hunter Street, which will be backed by £2.3 million of Scottish Government funding.

But the local community is reportedly sceptical about the plans, with Labour MSP Paul Sweeney describing a community council consultation event as “fairly confrontational”.

Scottish Conservative Sue Webber asked Susanne Millar – the chief officer of Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership and one of the driving forces behind the facility – if the consultation was “disingenuous” and would not change the approach despite concerns from residents.

“No, absolutely not,” she said.

“The engagement with the local community and a range of stakeholders is critical to the success, in our opinion, of the safer drug consumption facility.”

Ahead of the project being given the green light, she said, there was engagement with the local community, although that was hindered due to a lack of finalised proposals on its legality and location.

Ms Millar said: “We are well aware of the level of anxiety and the questions that require to be answered – that’s something we’ll work through, that’s something that we are very used to doing.

“We will take the local community with us, we know that we have to do that in order for this to be successful.”

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